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Holy Cross Academy students learn the art of the deal

Art Fair’s Student Art Aficionados use collaboration, problem-solving skills

Sophia Weis painted in art class on Jan 16. She is one of three students at Holy Cross Academy to participate in the St. Louis Art Fair: The Student Art Aficionados Program. The program challenges students to use their skills in visual arts, mathematics, social studies, language arts and more in budgeting, negotiation, working in a team environment and public speaking to purchase art.
Jasmin Damole knows how to make a deal.

In charge of purchasing art for Holy Cross Academy this past fall at the St. Louis Art Fair, the eighth-grader took her role seriously as the negotiator, interacting with the artist and making the final deal.

“We didn’t have enough money to get the six pieces that we wanted,” Jasmin said. “So we asked (the artist, Sharon Spillar) to give us a very big discount, and she did.”

“I was kind of surprised. I didn’t think she would give us that deal,” Jasmin said.

Holy Cross Academy was the only Catholic school chosen last year to be a part of the St. Louis Art Fair: The Student Art Aficionados Program. The program challenges students to use their skills in visual arts, mathematics, social studies, language arts and more in budgeting, negotiation, working in a team environment and public speaking as they purchase art with $750 in funds provided by the program.

Jasmin described her nature as being “very reserved,” but she moved from her comfort zone to be part of the team. Her teammates helped with their talents and collaborative spirit, Jasmin said.


Eighth-grader Eva Morie served as coordinator on the team. “We all worked together on choosing what art pieces we liked best,” she said.


The students chose three photographs by Igor Menaker because they represented the theological virtues: faith, hope and love. “His pieces really stood out to us,” Eva said. “They were different from the other ones. They embodied the Christian part of our school.”

The program gave her an insight into the business side of art. “It was a lot of pressure at the beginning, but we had a lot of fun,” Eva said.

A larger committee of Holy Cross Academy students and their art teacher, Greg Sullentrup, provided advice before the fair. The three-person team polled that committee of students and some faculty on the type of art they wanted. “A lot of them said religious or creative, and we really did do that,” Eva said.

Sophia Weis served as the group spokesperson. The eighth-grader describes herself as “a loud person who likes to talk,” so she took to the role easily. She spoke at a showcase in which the student groups justified their purchases. “We all thought of talking points beforehand,” Sophia said.

The photos, taken by Menaker in Italy, “besides being absolutely beautiful are a reminder to the students that we are all in the presence of God here” at Holy Cross Academy, Sophia said.

The other pieces, 4 x 4-inch wooden blocks, are “fun, vibrant and colorful,” Sophia said. “Walking down a hallway and seeing this huge burst of colors is something that’s

really needed.”

Applying skills

Janet Dolan, principal of the Annunciation campus of Holy Cross Academy, said the students “applied the 21st-century skills we are teaching. They used their creativity, of course, and their skills of collaboration, critical thinking and problem-solving. It’s one thing to learn, but they actually applied what they learned.”

Dolan was particularly pleased when Sophia told the assembly that the students picked the photos because they are a reminder of God’s presence in their school. Sophia also told the group that they chose the blocks to “let everyone know that the students of Holy Cross Academy stand out,” Dolan said.

Sullentrup, who returned to teaching this school year after many years in the private sector, said he didn’t know any of the students when he accepted applications for the three positions and picked who he felt was the best fit. He met several times with the three girls who did extensive research. A voting process from the school community helped pick out the artists they targeted.

“The girls really made smart decisions” under time constraints, he said.

A challenge was picking something suitable for a middle school, Sophia said. “It might be pretty but a glass frog would get broken in a day,” she said.

The team

While negotiating, Spillar, the artist of the set of six mixed-media paintings, asked the Holy Cross Academy team of three students to name their favorite subjects, expecting art to be one of them. But the students were too honest, apparently a quality the artist

found endearing. “I said English,” Jasmin said of her subject of choice.

Jasmin, a St. John Paul II parishioner who plans to attend Rosati-Kain High School in the fall, said that writing stories is her favorite part of school. But she also takes ceramics, lettering and art studio as electives.

Eva, an Annunciation parishioner who plans to attend Cor Jesu Academy, is a fan of social studies, math and science. Her electives include lettering, calligraphy, ceramics and newsletter production (HCA Today).

Sophia, who likes English and social studies, said she appreciates the academics at Holy Cross Academy. “You have to apply yourself if you want to do well. At some schools you get away with a lot, not do the work and then your grades still will be good,” she said.

An Annunciation parishioner who plans to attend Rosati-Kain High School, she’s involved in the Bellarmine Speech League and is a cantor and in the children’s youth choir at her parish. Her electives include choir, open-art studio and knitting, Sophia said, pointing out that she was wearing socks she made — “a chill color, not creepy orange.”

>> Art program

Student Art Aficionados is a program of the Cultural Festivals, the producer of the St. Louis Art Fair and presented by Centene Charitable Foundation.

The program aims to give students an authentic art-buying experience to install artwork in their schools while leaving a lasting impact on the community and the students.

In addition to empowering young people with an opportunity to experience art in a new way, the team-building, business and presentation components of the program further develop transferable skills including basic budgeting, negotiation, working in a team environment and public speaking. The learning occurs both inside and outside the classroom.

• Students are given a budget. Teams of students then work to select and purchase art for installation in their school. At least one work of art is donated to the Saint Louis Art Fair’s travelling Public Art Collection, which displays in area schools, hospitals and community centers.

• They receive an in-class study guide from Cultural Festivals with curriculum and exercises to help students understand and appreciate art as more than just personal taste, but as it influences and represents culture and as a business.

• Students present their selection(s) at the Student Art Aficionados Showcase before their student body and a panel of experts. This showcase calls upon students to present and justify their purchases from the St. Louis Art Fair.

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